Country music legend George Jones died Friday in Nashville, Tennessee after being hospitalized April 18 with a fever and high blood pressure. Jones was 81 years old.
Jones was one of the defining artists in country music history, bearing the influence of the genre’s early pioneers Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell as he gained prominence in the mid-1950s.
Born in rural Saratoga, TX on September 12, 1931, Jones began singing on the streets as a child after the family moved to Beaumont, TX. Following a stint in the Marines, Jones recorded his first top-five hit, “Why Baby Way,” on the Texas-based Starday label in 1955. He then signed to Mercury Records and scored his first #1 hit in 1959 with “White Lightning.” Jones’ hits continued through the 1960s with country standards like “She Thinks I Still Care” and “The Race Is On.”
Jones had weathered two failed marriages by the time he married Tammy Wynette in 1969. The couple scored hit duets with “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Golden Ring” and “Two Story House,” in the process earning the title of President and First Lady of Country Music. Jones and Wynette continued to record together well after their 1975 divorce, while Jones also continued racking up solo hits like “The Grand Tour” and “A Picture of Me (Without You).” Jones and Wynette reunited for an album and tour in 1995 and were on friendly terms when Wynette died in 1998.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Jones’ alcohol and cocaine addiction led to multiple arrests and hospital stays. He also missed dozens of concerts, earning the nickname “No-Show Jones.”
Despite his personal issues, in 1980 Jones released what is often hailed as one of the greatest songs in country music history: “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The ballad was a #1 hit and won Jones several CMA Awards, as well as a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
Jones married wife Nancy Sepulveda in 1983, who’s credited with getting Jones’ personal and public lives back on track. He went on to win several more CMA Awards mostly thanks to collaborations with the likes of Brad Paisley, Patty Loveless, Garth Brooks and Buck Owens.
Following his 1992 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Jones released his bestselling memoir, I Lived to Tell It All, in 1996.
Jones was seriously injured in a car accident 1999 while driving under the influence of alcohol. He released an album called Cold Hard Truth that same year that produced the CMA Awards-nominated single “Choices.”
Jones was honored with the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in 2008.
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